Brendan O’Donnell may be a sophomore, but as one of the University’s four orientation interns, he’s probably seen more freshmen than you have in your entire life (811 to be exact). I sat with Brendan at Pi Cafe to talk about helicopter parents, orientation, and Hurricane Irene.
The Argus: What makes you a great WesCeleb?
Brendan O’Donnell: I was one of the four orientation interns, along with Lucas Mantilla ’13, Afi Tettey-Fio ’13, and Natasha Phillips ’14, and the four of us put in thirty-five-hour weeks all summer to make sure orientation went smoothly. Also, a lot of people call me out without knowing who I am, so I guess that means my face is out there.
A: How did you fill those 35 hour weeks at the beginning of the summer?
B: There’s actually a lot more that goes into being an orientation intern than most people know. For example, at the beginning of the summer we had to send out summer mailing, which was a lot of work especially in the first week because we had the pamphlets ready but we had to stuff 800 envelopes.
A: What goes into making the handbook?
B: We had to start the orientation handbook months and months in advance. People don’t realize this but the handbook is pretty much the same year to year, but you have to contact the people whose event it is and ask them whether the information is accurate. We probably contacted 40 different people to ask: “How did this look, is this how you envisioned it?”
A: How did Irene impact your job?
B: The hurricane struck Wesleyan on the exact day that international students were scheduled to arrive. It struck on arrival day, so the university was closed and there were 80 international students taking planes to random places. A common thing we heard from students was that they were stuck in New York without any public transportation. Specifically, Lucas and Afi had to sort all of that out. They got everyone here, which I’m amazed at. The one tough thing was that we had to reschedule international students’ immunizations, because if they don’t get those done by a certain date their visas expire.
A: You had to respond to incoming freshmen on the new students’ Facebook group.
B: I probably ended up doing it the most because I like answering people’s questions and there were times when I wasn’t very busy and other people were answering the phones more. I answered a lot of questions on the WesAdmits group, and there was also a separate group for international students. We have an orientation email address and a phone line, so people can call and email us. In the past, interns answered questions on Facebook probably not to the extent that we did, but we answered questions on there just to stem the faulty information that crops. Returning students are trying to be helpful, but don’t really know, for example, what during orientation is required and what’s not. So we have to go in and clarify some things.
A: What was the weirdest question you had to answer?
B: We got some that didn’t make any sense, but nothing that was super bizarre. We also had some that were difficult to read because they were from parents who didn’t have an excellent grasp of English. And there was one student who copied and pasted all of the emails from a twelve-email thread exchange in capital letters. Pretty good grammar, but everything was capitalized.
A: Were you on the phone a lot, or were you mostly answering questions by email or Facebook?
B: We were on the phone a lot. We didn’t get a lot of bizarre phone calls, but we did get one parent who referred to his child as “offspring.” He just called up and said, “I believe my offspring has lost his summer mailing.” We thought that was really funny. The guy was actually quite entertaining.
A: Did any of the freshmen recognize you when they got on campus?
B: Yes. It’s actually really interesting. Especially when I was wearing my button and orientation shirt, people would walk up to me and introduce themselves. Sometimes people I’ve never seen before would walk up and be like, “You’re Brendan!” And that was kind of awesome. There were people who I’d never seen before but I’d seen their names on paper. There were some who I actually recognized and I knew where they lived and stuff. So someone would say their first name and I would ask, “Is this how you spell your last name?” And they’d be a little creeped out.
A: Did some people remember the questions they asked you?
B: Yeah definitely. One kid said to me, “Oh hey, you told me what it’s like living on Clark 2!” And I have a pretty good memory for names and faces so most of the time I would remember that too.
A: What was one of your more stressful jobs?
B: I was the intern in charge of the arrival site. So I was in Exley all day supervising everything; I had to be here at 6:30 a.m. to set everything up. The rest of the staff came between 7 and 7:30, and we were out by 3. If someone came up to me and said someone didn’t have a folder, I had to go and do that. We actually had one pair of combative parents asking for a student’s folder, and it wasn’t there. So I told them to go eat, and they didn’t want to walk all the way over there to eat. But it became apparent that the son had picked up the folder but not told the parents. We also had parents who were really stressed for whatever reason and didn’t want us to tell them where to go because they thought they wouldn’t remember where anything was. So we’d try to tell them what they should do, and they would say, “No, you can’t tell me, I won’t remember.”
A: Was there anything particularly different about the parents this year?
B: That’s funny that you say that, because the ones that were most like helicopter parents were the first to say they weren’t helicopter parents. We had some parents who would call us over the summer and were obviously trying to figure out how to get into their child’s portfolio. Overall, the parents were pretty good. ResLife had their own set of issues with the triples so I think they got a lot of angry parents calling about that. But we did not get a lot of that forwarded to us because we were orientation and not ResLife.
A: Is there anything else you had to sugar coat a little bit?
B: A lot of people actually asked on the Facebook group about ways of trying to get into very specific dorms, like “what should I say on the form to make them realize I want to live in Fauver?” They would be on the group trying to devise the ultimate application that would get you into Clark, like “I want to be near the gym but also near the library,” and stuff like that. All these weird things. Every now and then we would go on there and say things like where you are going to live is not entirely determined by this form, not everyone can live in WestCo, I’m sorry it just doesn’t work that way. There are only 66 seats and 811 of you.
A: What were the major concerns besides housing?
B: Classes were a big one. A lot of people stressing out about pre-reg. Freaking out about like, “what if I don’t get into this class, what if I want to quadruple major?” We had to say chill out, especially in the end of the summer when there were all these people freaking out about pre-registration, you know, we aren’t going to answer these questions because your advisors are going to answer all of these questions, so we just kind of left them to their own devices for two weeks. So we kind of used our discretion in that regard.
A: Do people drop out over the summer a lot?
B: We started out with 831 on the matriculation list, and by the time school started we had 811. There’s something called “summer melt.” Over the course of the summer people get off wait lists, or they defer for a year. This was great for ResLife, because they could de-triple rooms any time that happened. Often times, before ResLife even released housing assignments, rooms were de-tripled.
A: If you were a sandwich, what would you be?
B: Chicken pesto, because I’m eating it right now and it’s delicious.